Whole-Fat or Reduced-Fat Dairy Product Intake, Adiposity, and Cardiometabolic Health in Children: A Systematic Review

Adv Nutr. 2020 Jul 1;11(4):928-950. doi: 10.1093/advances/nmaa011.


Dietary guidelines commonly recommend that children aged >2 y consume reduced-fat dairy products rather than regular- or whole-fat dairy. In adults, most studies have not found the consumption of whole-fat dairy products to be associated with increased cardiometabolic or adiposity risk. Associations in children could differ due to growth and development. We systematically reviewed the literature in indexed, peer-reviewed journals to summarize pediatric studies (children aged from 2 to 18 y) assessing associations between whole- and reduced-fat dairy intake and measures of adiposity as well as biomarkers of cardiometabolic disease risk, including the serum lipid profile, blood pressure, low-grade chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, and measures of glucose homeostasis. For the purposes of this review, a "whole-fat" dairy product was defined as a product with the natural fat content, whereas a "reduced-fat" dairy product was defined as a product with some or all of the fat removed (including "low-fat" and "skim" versions). A total of 29 journal articles met our criteria for inclusion. The majority were conducted in the United States and were prospective or cross-sectional observational studies, with only 1 randomized controlled trial. Studies were consistent in reporting that whole-fat dairy products were not associated with increased measures of weight gain or adiposity. Most evidence indicated that consumption of whole-fat dairy was not associated with increased cardiometabolic risk, although a change from whole-fat to reduced-fat dairy improved outcomes for some risk factors in 1 study. Taken as a whole, the limited literature in this field is not consistent with dietary guidelines recommending that children consume preferably reduced-fat dairy products. High-quality randomized controlled trials in children that directly compare the effects of whole-fat compared with reduced-fat dairy intake on measures of adiposity or biomarkers of cardiometabolic disease risk are needed to provide better quality evidence in this area.

Keywords: children; cholesterol; dairy; low-fat; overweight; pediatric; regular-fat; skim milk; whole milk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cardiovascular Diseases*
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dairy Products
  • Dietary Fats
  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies


  • Dietary Fats